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City Attorney Jan Goldsmith wants to "place the City in a more defensible posture" against those looking for refunds on tax assessments.

Goldsmith plans to do so by adding a new section [Section 22.1708] to the City's code which sets strict guidelines for residents who wish to challenge the amount or legality of a City tax, assessment, or penalty. The new section will prohibit residents to file lawsuits against the City without having paid the disputed assessment first and before going through the proper administrative channels. Lastly, a group of claimants would not be allowed to file a class action tax claim against the City.

"A claimant must: exhaust administrative remedies; present a properly executed claim for a tax refund to the City; and wait for the claim to be rejected before suing the City," reads a staff report from the City Attorney's Office.

Some recent examples of disputed local assessments have occurred in Golden Hill and South Park where residents paid millions of dollars to an illegally-formed maintenance assessment district before a judge struck the district down in court, or, in downtown, where, thousands of residents overpaid on their property and business improvement district assessments due to a a flawed engineer's report. No refunds have been issued in either case.

City councilmembers will consider adding the new section to the Municipal Code at a hearing on Tuesday.

Update: Gina Coburn, Communications Director for the City Attorney's Office, responded to the "pay first, litigate later" policy by adding that the policy is in response to a recent court decision and many cities and counties across the state are adopting similar ordinances.

"The "pay first, litigate later" requirement is contained in the California Constitution. It has been the rule for many decades as to claims against local governments and the State of California," wrote Coburn in an email.

"However, a recent appellate court decision stated that it now applies only to those local governments that have an ordinance requiring it. It still applies to claims against the State of California.

As a result of this appellate decision, cities across the state have adopted ordinances similar to the one we proposed.

As attorneys for the City of San Diego, it would be malpractice for our office to neglect bringing this to the City Council. As the City's policymakers, they can accept or reject the proposal.

We understand the view that this requirement is against the interests of taxpayers who want to file lawsuits. We emphasize that, regardless of what San Diego does, the requirement continues to apply to claims against the State of California and it remains a part of the California Constitution."

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Comments

SurfPuppy619 April 20, 2012 @ 12:16 p.m.

It is hard to take anything seriously from Goldsmith with that squirrel sitting on top of his head, at an angle no less.

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Visduh April 20, 2012 @ 6:05 p.m.

Come on SurfPup, you have to come up with something better than that! This is just one more way the city is going to screw the residents. If you want to litigate or dispute anything they charge you, you have to pay it first? OUTRAGEOUS. That's a tool that could be used to put any/every opponent or critic or whatever out of business or homeless or in severe distress. Just don't forget that the city is masterly at wringing the max out of its taxpayers and delivering as little as possible. This is just one more step in making that all permanent.

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InOmbra April 20, 2012 @ 6:41 p.m.

Thanks for bringing this to light, Dorian. If you want to see the chilling video of the Rules and Open Government (ha ha) Committee presentation, look at it here: link text It starts at about 1:11, then the sound is lost because the Deputy City Attorney screws the mic, but the clerk fixes the mic around 1:15. Must watch. The attorney's office language is very sloppy, casually mixing up "tax" and "assessment," which have very different legal meanings. Makes you think they don't really get it, or care. Chilling. Create stumbling blocks, ha ha ha. Marty and Lori find it sooo amusing.

Yeah, city. A statute does not = municipal code. Just try it. Epic fail.

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Founder April 21, 2012 @ 8:39 a.m.

As Gov't. gets ever more powerful, the "rights" of the people will continue to be eroded as the "CITY" protects itself with laws that only the rich can afford to challenge!

The City is also doing a similar thing by allowing its "City" appointed Planning Commission Members to approve zoning that benefits Business Owners by over ruling local residents; which in effect, negates the City own zoning rules unless you are able to pay huge Attorney fees to challenge them in court...

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oldcitizen April 21, 2012 @ 10:18 a.m.

Almost 3 years ago it was discovered that several thousand downtown residents were overcharged on their PBID tax assessment. I inquired about deducting the refund I was due from my tax bill. I was told that the 10% penalty and 18% interest would apply if I deducted the amount of overcharge. How long will people who are due refunds have to wait? An audit of PBID assessments was completed several months ago. It was supposed to show the amount that citizens were overcharged (and possibly undercharged). So far this audit remains a secret and no refunds have been issued.

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Visduh April 21, 2012 @ 2:23 p.m.

There is some precedent for all the delay. Many years ago the alarmists managed to get local voters (only a simple majority) to vote for a Criminal Justice tax, a half-percent sales tax override. Good ol' Larry Stirling, a self-proclaimed conservative, was in the Assembly and carried a law that stated such taxes could be approved with only a simple majority. The problem was that his law was in direct contravention of Prop. 13, which was a constitutional amendment. The tax was quickly challenged in court, and fairly soon a judge ruled it unconstitutional. But the wishy-washy judge did not order the tax stopped. Instead, he stayed his order pending appeal. Finally the state Supreme Court ruled that it was indeed unconstitutional. During that time, about five years, all of SD county paid the extra tax and it was held in escrow. After some machinations, the money was sort-of refunded, along with the interest it had earned, through a refund program and a reduction of the tax rate for several months. But that program had to be invented and approved by the court before it could begin. So, it was years. If you need your refund in a hurry, you are in a fix.

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Founder April 21, 2012 @ 6:48 p.m.

It is a real travesty, that in this day of electronic banking that property Owners cannot be debited OR CREDITED ASAP; any corrections to be applied in future taxes as required...

To do less is is just a gift to the City and encourages them to make things worse for tax payers!

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nostalgic April 21, 2012 @ 4:31 p.m.

For people who work, running to the city council every week to protect our rights make it impossible to do it all. Todd Gloria said "the money has already been spent, so we can't pay it back." The City Attorney's office adds the supporting argument.

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Founder April 21, 2012 @ 6:44 p.m.

$URE Todd is not running against anyone now, so he can now be the poster boy for all those that are now in charge of our Cities future DEBT!

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Founder April 23, 2012 @ 6:50 p.m.

RE: "the money has already been spent, so we can't pay it back."

If the City sent us some money and later found that it was in error, ... I bet we could not use that excuse!

1

goldenhillhomeowner April 22, 2012 @ 7:07 p.m.

Clearly, with this proposal Mr. Goldsmith has staked out a position that is hostile to the very people who pay for city government - taxpayers. Mr. Goldsmith is able to make this proposal because no one is running against him in his bid for re-election as City Attorney. In fact, most people are unaware he is even up for re-election.

The saving grace is that the proposal can't get approved without a vote of city council, some of whom are up for re-election, and some of whom actually do have opponents. Moreover, the proposal, even if adopted by the city council, would be subject to a mayoral veto.

It is essential that those of us who oppose this horrible idea (probably the majority of San Diegoans) start writing letters and emails, and making phone calls. This proposal can be stopped with effective political opposition.

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Founder April 23, 2012 @ 6:47 p.m.

Well written! That is just one of the reasons that more folks do not go to Council Meetings!

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concerned April 22, 2012 @ 7:31 p.m.

The city owes property owners a refund of all assessments paid to an ILLEGALLY formed MAD. Period. If there is no repayment, the city opens itself to further litigation. How much extra cash does the city have to waste on lawsuits that could be avoided by following the law? The first suit was the only way the property owners of Golden Hill/South Park could get the attention of our city government and councilmembers.
Do the property owners need to file again? Is that what the city wants? Really?

1

Founder April 23, 2012 @ 6:53 p.m.

The answer is YES!

The City has lots of Lawyers, the citizens do not...

Their tactics are to delay, delay, delay any settlement until those that have made these poor decisions are Out of Office...

1

nostalgic April 24, 2012 @ 7:32 a.m.

"Of the people, by the people, for the people.... " A group in Northern California which refused to let these special assessment districts gain in their communities. The basis for these districts is very much like that of the proposed Hotel Tax District - the people who get a large weighted vote are out-of-town owners. The city itself voting was discouraged by the GH MAD court ruling. For example, in Golden Hill one large property owner's weighted vote was about 300 times the weight of a condo owner.

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TrueJustice April 24, 2012 @ 12:55 p.m.

Dorian,

I wonder if you could find out how much the City spent/wasted on the GGH MAD litigation. At some point they will have to disclose it if they are seeking damages in the suit against SCI but it would be nice to know sooner.

Thanks for your wonderful coverage of this saga.

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Dorian Hargrove April 24, 2012 @ 1:10 p.m.

TrueJustice, I asked the City Attorney for the cost of litigation and this was the response from Gina Coburn, communications director for the City Attorney: "This case has been in litigation since 2007, but it has all been in-house and the city is not charged separately for it."

I will try to find the number of staff hours.

Thanks!

--Dorian

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Dorian Hargrove April 24, 2012 @ 4:22 p.m.

TrueJustice, the City Attorney's Office also said that staff "did not keep track of all time spent on the case."

--Dorian

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Founder April 25, 2012 @ 6:59 a.m.

Lawyers not keeping tract of their time? SURE

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